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REVIEW – Spiel Uhr by Group Motion

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by Kat Richter for The Dance Journal
photo by Bill Hebert

Group Motion’s history is impressive: as a contemporary modern dance company founded in 1968, Group Motion has performed around the world and at many notable American institutions including Judson Church and Jacob’s Pillow.  Its founders include Brigitta Hermann, Helmut Gottschild and Manfred Fischbeck and in 1972, the company launched the Group Motion Workshop to teach improvisation.

What’s most impressive about the company, however, is that it remains relevant after over four decades and the tradition of improvisation is alive and well if this weekend’s performance at the Community Education Center is of any indication.

Spiel Uhr, which began in 1988, allows company dancers and guest choreographers to present new work.  The title of the series reflects the background of the company’s original founders, many of whom came through the Mary Wigman School of Dance in Berlin; it refers to a music box and I can think of no metaphor more adept for describing the nine works performed on Sunday night.

The evening featured new works by Brigitta Herrmann, Laina Fischbeck and Johan Charpentier, Darcy Lyons, Eleanor Goudie-Averill, David Konyk, Lindsay Browning, and an improvisation by the Group Motion Dance Company directed by Fischbeck.  Each was imaginative, well-thought out and pithy.

Eleanor Goudie-Averill’s For Members Only, which premiered during the Fringe Festival, featured a trio of dancers surrounded by dismembered mannequins and wooden sculptors.  Goudie-Averill and Hedy Wyland performed a slow, automaton-like duet, one holding a torso and the other a pelvis.  They twisted side to side then repeated the phrase without their props, getting closer and closer until they melted into an embrace.  The work had an eerie, mad scientist feel to it at times but by the end, the dancers were jiving around one of the wooden sculptures like witches around a cauldron.

Liberty, a work in progress by Aura Fischbeck, started off promisingly enough.  Dressed in a flowing, mint green gown complete with a seven-pointed crown, Fischbeck swung a light up torch to the unmistakable sounds of Jimi Hendrix.  It was just kitschy enough to pique my interest but there was little variety in the movements; Fischbeck whirled and twirled across the stage like a child playing in the grass for the duration of the song.

Don’t Let a Fool Kiss You, choreographed by David Konyk and performed by Konyk and Wyland, was a delightful counterpoint.  Danced entirely in the windows that frame the stage, it turned the typical duet into a slow, dream-like pole dance from two that was both charming and quirky.  Wyland and Konyk swung out of their window sills, splaying their bodies across the wall between them then returned to their confined little boxes as if to consider matter before proceeding with their aerial flirtations.

In Safekeeping by Darcy Lyons, four dancers crisscrossed the stage in symmetrical patterns only just narrowly avoiding collision.  The piece explored themes of fear and security through spoken text, intricate partnering and the breaking of repetitive motifs.  Lindsey Browning’s Untitled, which included live accompaniment provided by Manfred, text and five large black umbrellas, was captivating.  One by one, Browning clasped each of the umbrellas in one hand, creating a sculpture that was larger than herself.  In About Choice, Herrmann sauntered on stage hunched over a bag of confetti before performing an improvised solo that was simultaneously ethereal and grounded.

Laina Fischbeck and Johan Charpentier shook things up in the second act with Breaking Patterns.  Each had a thick black line painted across their body: Charpentier’s covered his mouth while Fischbeck’s covered her eyes, nipples and pubic bone.  She performed in the nude, shaking and kicking with her wrist outstretched as if being injected while Charpentier tore through an original composition on the piano.  Towards the end of the performance, the artists switched places: Fischbeck sat down at the piano and Charpentier walked to the center of the stage and began to explore the movement of his limbs just as the lights went out.

The evening concluded with Five Point Star and Tableaux, in which company dancers Goudie-Averill, Konyk, Browning and Wyland performed a series of improvisations based on suggestions provided by the audience.  To accompaniment by Tim Motzer, they animated ideas that only dance could bring to life.

Kat Richter is a freelance writer and teaching artist.  She holds an MA in Dance Anthropology and is also the co-founder of The Lady Hoofers, Philadelphia’s only all-female tap company.  Her work can be found at www.katrichter.com.

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